Four former Tigers prepare for NFL Draft today

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 25, 2005

BATON ROUGE – Marcus Spears and Ben Wilkerson are going fishing. Corey Webster will hang out with family and friends, while Travis Daniels plans to go back and visit the places where he attended elementary school, junior high and high school.

Hardly events that would make one think that the biggest weekend of their young lives is upon them. However, for these four LSU seniors, this weekend will be anything but ordinary. All four players are expected to be taken on the first day of the 2005 NFL Draft, which gets underway on Saturday morning in New York.

Spears, a defensive end from Baton Rouge, is projected as a first round pick for the Tigers, while the other three players are all likely first day picks. The first three rounds of the seven round draft will be held on Saturday, with the final four rounds coming on Sunday.

For Spears, Saturday will be the beginning of a professional career that he decided to put on hold 15 months ago. Last January, Spears did something that most student-athletes projected as first round draft picks don’t and that’s to remain in school for a senior season and earn a degree. Still just 14 hours shy of earning a diploma, Spears knows that the past year was well spent.

“I would make the same decision again if I had to,” Spears said on his coming back to LSU for a senior season. “I had a great time as a senior. I have no regrets. To be able to come back as a senior and be a part of a team that won nine games, earn All-America honors and be a team captain. That’s special.

Spears also used his senior season with the Tigers to get a better grasp of the business side of football.

“I was able to learn a lot about the business side of playing football,” Spears said. “Pro football is a big business and I didn’t truly realize that until this year. Had I come out as a junior, I don’t think I would have been prepared for that aspect of pro football.”

As a senior, Spears earned consensus All-America honors in leading the Tigers to a 9-3 overall mark and a berth in a fourth straight January bowl game. He capped his career ranked among LSU’s all-time leaders in sacks with 19 and in tackles for losses with 34.5.

As for his fishing on Saturday, Spears says, “I’ll trade a big fish for an early phone call. I’ve caught a lot of big fish and I’ll catch a bunch more. On Saturday, that phone call will be the more important that catching a big one.”

While Spears plans to pass the time on Saturday fishing, Webster will be surrounded by family and friends in his hometown of Vacherie. A year ago, Webster, just like Spears, announced that he would return to LSU for a senior season.

With a degree already in hand (he graduated in August), Webster spent most of his senior season slowed by a series of nagging injuries. He still managed to earn All-America honors in 2004 and he finished his career with 16 interceptions, No. 2 on LSU’s all-time list.

Now completely healed, Webster has impressed scouts so much that he’s a second round lock with a chance at getting picked in the first round.

“From what I’ve been hearing, worse case scenario should be somewhere in the second round,” Webster said. “I’ve worked hard getting ready for the draft. I’m just ready for Saturday to get here so I’ll know where I’m going to be living and what team I’m going to be playing for.

“I just want an opportunity to get a chance to play and to be happy.”

For Ben Wilkerson, the NFL Draft puts an end to a six-month odyssey that has seen the center go from starter and All-America to barely being able to walk. On Oct. 30, Wilkerson’s career path took a turn that nobody could have predicted. On the last play of LSU’s 24-7 win over Vanderbilt, Wilkerson ruptured the patella tendon in his left knee, putting an end to his collegiate career.

What followed were long days, followed even by even longer nights of rehabilitation and thoughts of never being able to play football again. Despite it all, Wilkerson, the co-winner of the coveted 2004 Rimington Award as the nation’s best center, never gave up or gave in and as a result, he’s put himself in a position to be one of the top centers taken in the draft. Rated as the No. 3 center heading into the weekend, the draft will be the end of a process that has tested Wilkerson both physically and mentally.

“I’ve dealt with adversity throughout my entire career so I approached this injury no different than any other that I’ve had,” said Wilkerson, who will be at his parents home in Hemphill, Texas for the draft. “The only difference is in the past, I was always trying to get ready for the next season at LSU, now I’m trying to get back so I can play in the NFL.

“I’m still not back to my full potential, but I’m close. I just have to play the cards that have been dealt to me. I’m looking forward to the opportunity of playing in the NFL, no matter the team. I just want to be able to prove that a club didn’t waste a pick or any money on me and for those who passed me up, show them that they shouldn’t have.”

Daniels, a two-year starter at cornerback for the Tigers, will use his days leading up to the draft going back to south Florida say thanks to those who have helped him along the way.

“I’m going back home to Miami and I plan on visiting the schools that I went to when I was a kid,” Daniels said. “I want to go back and say ‘thanks’ to those teachers and administrators who helped me along the way.”

Daniels will also use the opportunity to spread the message that education is important.

“I’m also going to speak to kids in junior high and high school and tell them that it’s important to stay in school,” Daniels. “It’s pretty simple. Without an education I wouldn’t be where I am today and I certainly wouldn’t have the opportunity of playing in the NFL.”

Daniels has come a long way from his days as a backup in the defensive secondary for the Tigers. For two years, Daniels languished on the sidelines, seeing only spot duty for LSU.

Then as a junior, Daniels flourished, developing as a tremendous cover corner on the nation’s No. 1 rated defense. Daniels helped his draft stock during a pre-draft workout for many of the NFL teams in late March in Baton Rouge.

“I ran a 4.42 and a 4.43 (40-yard dash) and pretty much showed the scouts that I’ve got the speed to be able to play cornerback at the next level,” Daniels said. “Some teams like me as a cornerback, while others have told me I’d be safety. I’m just excited about the opportunity to play in the NFL.”

Two other Tiger seniors could get a call from an NFL team this weekend and that’s linebacker Lionel Turner and quarterback Marcus Randall making Saturday and Sunday a busy two days for six LSU football players.